NEWS: James Schamus to exit and focus on producing Ang Lee boxing film

In the second shock announcement to materialise from the NBCUniversal fold in recent weeks, Peter Schlessel is folding his distribution venture FilmDistrict into an expanded Focus Features and takes charge as the new CEO.

The aim is for Focus to distribute up to 10 films a year, encompassing specialty and more commercial features. The Focus Features headquarters will relocate to Los Angeles and Schlessel will assemble his team before his January 2014 start date.

James Schamus, the existing CEO and co-founder of Focus Features, will leave the company to focus initially on producing Ang Lee’s film set up at Universal about the boxing world of the 1960s and 1970s.

It was not known at time of writing how many jobs would go at Focus and FilmDistrict as a result of the merger, or what would become of the office in London, where international sales arm Focus Features International is based.

FilmDistrict films set for release after January 2014 are expected to be absorbed into the newly constituted Focus.

FilmDistrict’s hits include Insidious: Chapter 2, Looper, Safety Not Guaranteed and Drive. The upcoming roster includes Spike Lee’s Oldboy remake set for November 27, That Awkward Moment starring Zac Efron on January 31 2014, Pompeii on February 21 2014 (which TriStar will still distribute) and Selfless on September 26, 2014. 

“The breadth and depth of Peter’s experience in the film business including production, acquisitions, distribution and most recently running FilmDistrict, will be a tremendous asset to Focus Features as the company broadens its portfolio beyond the production and distribution of specialty product,” said Universal chairman Donna Langley.

“Peter is one of the most talented executives in the industry and I’m confident that under his leadership, Focus will become even more of a force as the specialty film business continues to evolve.” 

“It is a great honour to be joining Donna and the other talented executives at Universal Pictures,” said Schlessel. “The Focus brand is respected throughout the industry and we intend to build on this while expanding the perception of what constitutes a Focus Features film.”

“I have tremendous admiration for James who has grown Focus Features into a premier brand and we are grateful to him for his commitment to Focus and many years of service,” said Langley.

“It’s been an amazing and joyous run at Focus, where our love of film has always been matched by our love and respect for our filmmakers and for each other,” said Schamus. “I wish Peter all the best with the next chapter, and look forward to working with my great colleagues at Universal on Ang’s movie and many more to come.”

Prior to launching FilmDistrict in September 2010 with Graham King and Tim Headington, Schlessel oversaw production and acquisitions at Sony Pictures, among other roles.

Focus Features will release Dallas Buyers Club starring Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner and Jared Leto on November 1 in a platform release pattern beginning in New York and Los Angeles. The company recently picked up worldwide rights in Toronto to Jason Bateman’s feature directorial debut Bad Words.